The Hallelujah Trail
|The Hallelujah Trail|
original film poster by Robert McGinnis
|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||John Sturges|
|Written by||John Gay
Based on the novel by William Gulick
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Robert L. Surtees, ASC|
|Editing by||Ferris Webster|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||June 23, 1965|
|Running time||165 min.|
The Hallelujah Trail is a 1965 Western mockumentary spoof directed by John Sturges and starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton, Brian Keith, Donald Pleasence, and Martin Landau, amongst others.
The film was one of several large-scale widescreen, long-form "epic" comedies produced in the 1960s, much like The Great Race or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, combined with the epic grandeur of the Western genre. The movie is technically outstanding, having been filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented in 70 mm Cinerama in premiere engagements, projected onto the Cinerama curved screen with a single lens.
Plot synopsis 
The film is presented in a pseudo-documentary style, with a tongue-in-cheek narrator (John Dehner) providing historical background and context, and periodically interrupting the story to point out animated charts illustrating strategic positions of various groups.
"Buffalo were feeding ravenously. Beaver were damming and storing with strange vigor. Horses and dogs were becoming shaggy-haired as never before. And it could be sensed in the booming, bustling mining town of Denver. Most historians agree that the events leading to the Battle of Whiskey Hills and the subsequent 'disaster' at Quicksand Bottoms began here in Denver at a miners' meeting..."
In the year 1867, signs that the approaching winter will be a hard one produce agitation in the burgeoning mining town of Denver, Colorado, as the hard-drinking citizenry fear a shortage of whiskey. Taking advice from Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasence), a local guide and seer (but only when under the influence of alcohol), the populace arrange for a mass shipment, forty wagons full of whiskey, from the Wallingham Freighting Company. The wagon train heads out, under the direction of company owner Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith), regarded as a "taxpayer and a good Republican."
This cargo then becomes the target for several diverse groups, each with their own leaders and plans. Young Capt. Paul Slater (Jim Hutton) of the United States Cavalry is assigned by Fort Russell commander Col. Thaddeus Gearhart (Burt Lancaster) to escort the Wallingham Wagon Train, and merely wishes to carry out his orders. A group of Irish teamsters, hired as wagon drivers, wishes to strike unless whiskey rations are distributed. Crusading temperance leader Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick) and her followers, informed of the alcoholic cargo, wish to intercept the train and destroy its contents; the group is escorted by a second cavalry division under the command of a reluctant Col. Gearhart.
Gearhart's daughter (Pamela Tiffin) is engaged to Slater and entranced by Mrs. Massingale's message. Despite their extremely different personalities and inability to see eye to eye, the weatherbeaten Gearhart and beautiful Cora Massingale fall in love. (Beneath her composure and grace, even her occasional ribbing against him, Cora is infatuated with Gearhart from the moment he rides into the fort and spends much of the film trying subtly to win his affection.)
Other interested parties include Sioux Indians, led by "real boozer" Chief Five Barrels (Robert J. Wilke) and Walks-Stooped-Over (Martin Landau), and a Denver citizens militia, led by Clayton Howell (Dub Taylor) and guided by Oracle, concerned about obtaining their precious supply of drinkables. Inevitably, the various groups converge, and the ensuing property struggle is played out through a series of comic set pieces and several diplomatic overtures by an increasingly weary Gearhart.
- Burt Lancaster as Col. Thaddeus Gearhart
- Lee Remick as Cora Templeton Massingale
- Jim Hutton as Capt. Paul Slater
- Pamela Tiffin as Louise Gearhart
- Donald Pleasence as 'Oracle' Jones
- Brian Keith as Frank Wallingham
- Martin Landau as Chief Walks-Stooped-Over
- John Anderson as Sgt. Buell
- Tom Stern as Kevin O'Flaherty
- Robert J. Wilke as Chief Five Barrels
- Dub Taylor as Clayton Howell
- Whit Bissell as Hobbs
- Helen Kleeb as Henrietta
- Val Avery as Denver bartender
- Noam Pitlik as Interpreter
- Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008 p250
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 185
- Anticipated rentals accruing distributors in North America. See "Top Grossers of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 36